How to find and use unusual genealogy sources to research your ancestors. Jumpstart your research using uncommon records you may have missed.
In a previous post, I shared one of my children’s favorite television shows when they were little – the Disney Channel’s show Out of the Box. We all loved that show! (I still have the theme song in my head.) Encouraged to use their imaginations, my children were soon using everyday objects to create castles and boats and forts and tea parties…..you get the idea. My children were thinking outside of the box when it came to their play.
Now don’t worry. We are not going to be researching imaginary ancestors or record sets!
We are going to think “outside of the genealogy box” and consider unusual genealogy sources to find our ancestors. Let’s think beyond the standard genealogy research of census records, birth records, marriage records, etc.
Finding and using those “out of the box” genealogy sources will benefit your genealogy research. Don’t limit your success by only researching the traditional genealogy records.
Below I am sharing unusual or “out of the box” genealogy sources that can be used in your genealogy research.
Tips before we get started:
- Get to know your ancestor well – I mean very well! – in the traditional genealogy records. Were they in the military? Do you know their occupation? Who was important to them? Who appeared alongside them in the records? Having a good understanding of your ancestor in traditional records will help you recognize your ancestor in the more unusual record sets.
- When you find an “out of the box” record set, educate yourself on that unique and/or unusual record sets by reading the “About” sections on records before you begin your research. Find out exactly what a record set contains and how the records are organized. Also, learn about any idiosyncrasies about that particular record set. This will be a huge time saver as you research.
Unusual or “Out of the Box” Genealogy Sources
The large databases such as Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, MyHeritage and FamilySearch all have lots of record sets researchers do not know exist or do not think to check . Find examples below of out of the box sources.
These are not comprehensive lists, but rather lists to get your creative juices flowing as you start to explore unusual genealogy sources for your own ancestors.
One of the places I like to check for unusual records is the recently added records section. A quick check today on Ancestry.com yielded the U.S., Baseball Questionnaires 1945-2005 record collection. I’m thrilled, because I do have baseball players among my ancestors.
Find more unusual sources by searching the card catalog in each of the databases. Search by record type (such as Schools, Directories and Church Histories) and narrow down by your state and county location.
More Unusual Genealogy Source Examples in Ancestry.com
- Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1861-1904 Contracts/cards for headstones provided for Union soldier graves by the government.
- U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 This record set contains not just troop passenger lists that were transported, but also support personnel (such as nurses) and even family members.
- Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1835-1974 Famous persons, casualties of the Titanic and just “regular folk” can be found here.
- Montana, Prison Records, 1861-1968 Records for Montana prisoners.
- U.S. Military and Naval Academies, Cadet Records and Applications, 1800-1908 Registers, applications, records of conduct and more…..
- U.S., Craftperson Files, 1600-1995 Information on American Craftpersons including artists, blacksmiths, silversmiths…..
- U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 Was your ancestor a postmaster? [I found mine here!]
Examples of “Out of the Box” Genealogy Sources in FindMyPast
- American Bible Society Index Search
- California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1835-1931 91,000 records of individuals buried in the San Francisco area, including those lost in the 1906 earthquake.
- Japanese-American World War II Relocation Files
- Shipwrecked Passengers To America, 1817-1875 – Interesting records!
- Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, Bethany Children’s Home Indexes
- York County, Pennsylvania, Coroners Papers Index, 1796-1819, 1858-1958
Examples of Unusual Genealogy Sources in State and Local Archives
State and local archives are full of unusual and uncommon genealogy records potentially holding clues to your ancestors. Take time to discover what types of records your state archives has. Check their card catalog and/or talk with an archivist. Don’t forget the online collections!
- Merchant account records – Potential source of a merchants customers.
- Cemetery Surveys – Potential source for family cemeteries [I found documented oral histories in these records!]
- Road records – Potential source for placing your ancestor in time and place.
- Records of lunacy – Potential source of individuals declared lunatics.
- School Records – Potential source for children, school teachers and superintendents
- Minutes for the Warden of the Poor – Potential source if your ancestors were poor and required assistance from the county
- Published Family Histories
Examples of Unusual Genealogy Sources Within Your Own Family
Do not overlook possible record sources held within your own family!
- Published family histories – Often these can be found in the local library or on your family’s bookshelf. Use these as clues and verify the information.
- Oral histories from distant cousins. Actively seek them out!
- Oral histories from family members with dementia. Our family members who suffer from the unfortunate diagnosis of dementia can still offer insight into your family history. Read tips and suggestions for interviewing a family member with dementia.
Take time to explore unusual and “out of the box” genealogy sources. When you’ve hit that genealogy brick wall – which we all do! – thinking outside the box can jump start your research.